FREEDOM OF INFORMATION FILLS A ROOM Freedom of information isn’t a hot button issue for most Canadians. But that didn’t dampen turnout for the Vancouver Press Club’s first freedom of information workshop.
The workshop was held in a room at Simon Fraser University’s downtown campus that accommodated 62 people. But the Club managed to fill that room and then some, making it a standing room only event with more than 70 attendees.
If you missed the workshop, which featured freedom of information tips and tricks from freelancer Bob Mackin, Vancouver Sun data journalist Chad Skelton, former Canadian Press reporter Dene Moore and myself, you can check out the recording of it here:
OPEN GOVERNMENT LEADER OF FOLLOWER? On Thursday, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne made public the marching orders she gave to the province’s ministers — records that have traditionally been kept secret. According to a news release from Wynne’s office, the release of that information “brings Ontario one step closer to its goal of becoming the most open and transparent government in Canada.”
But what the release doesn’t say is Ontario is just following what is common practice in some other jurisdictions. By my count, there are at least three others provinces — British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan — that already make ministerial mandate letters public.
POWERFUL PLACES PROTECTED FROM ACCESS REQUESTS IN CANADA, NOT U.S. Federally, records exclusively held by ministers’ offices aren’t subject to freedom of information requests. But, down in the United States, similar exclusions and exemptions appear to be the exception rather the rule at the state-level.
According to a recent survey by the Detroit Free Press found Michigan and Massachusetts are the only states “in which the governor has a blanket exemption from public record laws.” In addition, those two jurisdictions are among the “fewer than a dozen states where state lawmakers have a blanket exemption.”
THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING FOI REQUEST Talisman Energy Inc. has a 48,000 net acre position in British Columbia’s Montney natural gas play. It also has in-house lobbyists registered to “Influence [provincial] environmental and energy related policy, regulations and decisions to support the economic and sustainable development of shale resources in BC,” among other issues.
So it’s not surprising that when journalist Jeremy Nuttall filed a freedom of information request for communications between the company and the province’s ministry of natural gas development from May 1, 2012 to May 26, 2014 he was given a $1,218 fee estimate.
But what is surprising is that when Nuttall narrowed down the request to briefing notes relating to Talisman, as well as emails and correspondence between it and the ministry, he wasn’t given anywhere close to the 7,600 pages of records his original request had apparently netted. Instead, he was given just two.
Have a news tip about about the state of democracy, openness and accountability in Canada? You can email me at this address.